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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Lea Salonga in Concert with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra
Phoenix Symphony Orchestra
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Beehive, My Man Godfrey, Macbeth and Once Upon a Mattress


Lea Salonga
Photo Courtesy of Lea Salonga and the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra
By the time she was just 22, Lea Salonga had already won both an Olivier and a Tony Award and had performed an Oscar winning Best Song. Over the past 24 years, Salonga has gone on to appear in additional Broadway and West End productions and perform in numerous concerts including several with symphony orchestras. Her recent concerts with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra featured exceptional singing from Salonga and skilled playing from the PSO on excellent renditions of many songs associated with Salonga as well as numerous other hits from the Broadway and pop songbooks.

Lea Salonga won the Tony and Olivier Awards for her role of Kim in Miss Saigon and also sang for two Disney princesses, in the films Aladdin and Mulan. The passion she brings to songs from the musicals and films she has appeared in is just as strong when she sings songs for roles she didn't originate. She also makes sure that the meaning of every word she is singing is delivered with clarity. Thus, while the outdated feelings expressed by the young woman in "I Enjoy Being a Girl" from Flower Drum Song are clearly noted by Salonga, she still instills each word of the song with power. That same power is present in "I'd Give My Life for You" from Miss Saigon, which is the passionate plea of a young mother that is also filled with pain and anger. "Reflection" from Mulan and "Burn" from Hamilton, while two very different songs, both focus on how a woman can become strong when faced with adversity and forced to stand alone without a man by her side.

Three Stephen Sondheim songs, "Send in the Clowns" from A Little Night Music, "Another Hundred People" from Company, and "Something's Coming" from West Side Story (music by Leonard Bernstein), also were a testament to Salonga's ability to inflict nuance and complete understanding on lyrics that are filled with soul searching, desire, and personal inflection. On all of these songs, as well as the other songs she sang, her enunciation was flawless and her punctuated delivery of each lyric was filled with meaning.

While there wasn't one miss in the entire evening, there were many highlights. In addition to the songs already mentioned, two numbers from Les Misérables that Salonga sang both in the stage versions and in the 10th and 25th anniversary concert productions of the show were simply exceptional. Her performances of what she called the show's "two dead girl songs" ("I Dreamed a Dream" and "On My Own") were filled with such depth and emotion that that immediately became two of the best versions of those songs I've ever witnessed. Her exceptionally grounded take on "Defying Gravity" from Wicked soared to the rafters of the Orpheus Theatre. In addition to musical and film songs, Salonga also included a medley of numbers written by Michael Legrand and Alan and Marilyn Bergman featuring a lovely version of the Oscar-winning "The Windmills of Your Mind" and a soaring "A Piece of Sky" from the film Yentl.

While there were many powerful ballads, the evening also included a fun duet of "A Whole New World" from Aladdin, as Salonga asked for a male volunteer from the audience to sing it with her, and an encore of a medley of ABBA hits got the audience up on their feet.

Salonga's stellar vocal control is full of power, precision and clarity. Her warm stage presence, clear connection with both the audience and the orchestra, personal stories, and spontaneous interjections made the whole affair genuine and refreshing.

Ms. Salonga's brother Gerard Salonga provided the arrangements for the majority of the numbers in the concert. These both highlighted the individual contributions of the Phoenix Symphony and showcased the sheer force and clarity of the sound the PSO achieves. Maggie Martinic-Jercic's violin solo from Yentl was full of beauty and warmth. While there were only a couple of brief solo orchestral numbers, the overture for the evening was quite impressive, especially in how it featured highlights from the shows and films associated with Salonga and also afforded the Phoenix Symphony another opportunity to exhibit their exceptional musical abilities.

Lea Salonga in Concert with the Phoenix Symphony played two performances on May 5 and 6, 2017, at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix. Information for upcoming performances with the Phoenix Symphony can be found at www.phoenixsymphony.org.


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